The Moot Court: a Chamber of the ECtHR sits in Venice
By Marco Blanco and Daniel Toda (E.MA 2010/2011)
Every week of the E.MA programme has its own special features, but some of them, like this year’s week on Civil and Political Rights, bring activities of special excitement to the students. The Moot Court organised by Professor Paul Lemmens was, at least for the students participating in it, not a complementary activity; in fact, it was the central event of the week.
Having only one week to organise and prepare for a hearing before the European Court of Human Rights posed challenges to both Professor Lemmens and to the students who participated. In order to open the activity for the highest number possible of participants, the case proposed was arranged to involve three parties, two applicants and the respondent state. The two claimants were, respectively, the Rector of a University in a state party to the European Convention of Human Rights who had seen very compromising pictures pertaining to his private life published in the press and on the internet, and the publishing press group, who had been ordered in national civil proceedings to pay him a compensation of € 10.000. The first alleged insufficient protection of his right to private life, to a fair trial and to an effective remedy, while the latter felt that their freedom to provide information had been curtailed. Faced with both applications, the Court had decided to join them and the state had to counter two contradictory claims. This combination allowed for some 25 students to participate, distributed in three teams and allowing the team of the state to be more numerous in order to deal with both applications properly. The rest of the students composed the People’s Court, which would hear the case simultaneously to the ECtHR and render its own judgment.
Once the teams were set up and the case was released, the three groups started to work in the evenings and afternoons to prepare the oral arguments they would have to present in the hearing. It was an intense and rushed work that nonetheless gave students the occasion to delve into certain aspects of the ECtHR’s case-law and to employ that case-law as their litigation strategy. Both lawyers and non-lawyers participated in all the teams and everyone was able to make contributions and to learn from the others. A preliminary session with Professor Lemmens helped to fix the limits of the litigation and enabled the teams to gain some knowledge about the arguments of the other parts. The week transpired in an atmosphere of competition but also respect, exemplified by the fact that no team deprived the others of the books available in the library.
Formal dress code had been required for the day of the hearing, so that Saturday the Monastery became a catwalk for tights, high-heels and ties. Students knew they had to perform well-after all, there would be a real Judge of the ECtHR sitting on the bench: Mr. Luis López Guerra, who had been lecturing us the day before. Next to him, Professors Lemmens, Marrella the two Teaching Fellows and former EMA student Merrigan composed the Chamber. The two applicant teams were given the floor first; then the state responded after that there was reply and rejoinder. Although some time extensions were needed for the agents to be able to display all their arguments, partially owing to the judges’ exacting questions, the hearing finished smoothly.
The People’s Court delivered its judgment first, ordering the state to pay higher compensation to the University Rector and dismissing the rest of the claims. The ECtHR, however, found for the state in every point of law albeit not always unanimously. A badge of the Catholic University of Leuven was also awarded to the members of the team of the state, as the judges considered their pleadings and presentation to be the best. Nonetheless, all the teams were commended for the result of their hard work.
The Moot Court was an enjoyable experience and an original way to learn European case-law. It was also an occasion to develop team-work abilities which contributed to creating a sense of group among the masterine and masterini. A drink after the event at the Aeroporto Nicelli under the sun of an early Autumn Saturday attested to this.